Iran Seizes 15 British Marines

The Iranian Navy has seized 15 British Marines.

Fifteen British Royal Marines on patrol in the Persian Gulf have been “seized” by the Iranian navy, the British Ministry of Defense said. The personnel from the HMS Cornwall frigate were surrounded by Iranian navy vessels after completing a routine inspection of a merchant ship, the ministry said in a statement. They were then escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian waters, it said.

The Marines were “engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

A U.S. military official who monitors the region told CNN the Marines stopped an Iranian ship suspected of smuggling automobiles, and boarded it for an inspection.

While the Marines were on board, six Navy ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard showed up and claimed the British had entered Iranian waters. A dispute ensued over whether the Marines were in Iraqi, international, or Iranian territorial waters, and the 15 were then seized and taken to Iran, the U.S. military official said.

An Iraqi fisherman told Reuters the incident took place in the Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the southern stretch of Iraq’s border with Iran. His account could not be immediately confirmed.

The British ministry’s statement said the Marines “completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.” The statement added: “We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.

My tendency is to trust the British Marines’ ability to identify their location and stay out of Iranian territorial waters, especially in the age of GPS.

It’s not clear whether the Iranian captain acted on his own accord or under orders from his government. My guess would be the former. In any event, the government needs to step in and release the Marines quickly unless they wish to be even further isolated in the international community.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Can they be more isolated? Are the French suddenly going to decide Iran is a problem over 15 British Marines? Is a military strike more likely over 15 British Marines than over nuclear weapons?

    Jimmy Carter taught Iran that you have a minimum of 444 days before the west will take effective action.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    This incident certainly suggests that the Iranians are edgy. Or at least this Iranian captain is.

  3. Christopher says:

    James,

    You say your tendency is to trust the British Marines’ ability to identify their location and stay out of Iranian territorial waters, especially in the age of GPS. Wow, it is very interesting that you feel you must actually clarify which side you are on.

    You also say that its not clear whether the Iranian captain acted on his own accord or under orders from his government. Give me a break! Hey, have you heard of radios before? Great invention, and I think the Iranians HAVE THEM.

    James, you might not realize this, but the Iranian government is run by people who are either religious fanatics or murderous thugs, or in the case of many Muslims, both. Oh-and the government controls the Iranian Navy. Just thought I would clue you in.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Christopher,

    I’m well aware of the nature of the Iranian regime. Still, I know a little something about military affairs, too, and boat captains–regardless of nationality–tend to have substantial discretion to operate on their own judgment.

    I also recognize that it’s possible that there was legitimate confusion as to whether the Brits were in Iranian or international waters. Sometimes, the boundaries aren’t clear. Sometimes, too, there is a dispute about where the boundaries are. Given the competence of the British forces and modern technology–not to mention the political sensitivity of the situation–my guess is that they didn’t screw this one up.

  5. The Sandbox says:

    Iran Seizes British Naval Forces…

    From Skynews:The Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of 15 British sailors and Marines seized at gunpoint by Iranian forces. They were taking part in a routine operation boarding merchant ships in Iraqi territorial waters when they we…

  6. bob in fl says:

    Thank you, James, for pointing out the disputed borders in the waters off the Iraqi/Iranian border,

    The CNN article made the same reference in the article, as well as mentioning the same thing happening in 2004. Those sailors were released, with the Iranian explanation that the Brits had accidentally crossed into Iranian waters. They also said there was little coverage of this incident in the Iranian press.

    Another thing in the British sailors favor is that they found no evidence of wrongdoing on the ship the were searching at the time.

    The 444 day comment is an absolute farce. Those hostages were released during Reagan’s inauguration. The only way that could have happened was illegal dealings undercutting Carter’s negotiations with the Iranians, since Reagan had no legitimate power to do so until that day. Must I add that the CIA was headed by George H W Bush during the Hostage Crisis? The same man became Reagan’e VP on that day. What a “coincidence”.

  7. Christopher says:

    Wow, bob. First you DEFEND the Iranian military in this current crisis, then you BLAME any delay on the release of the hostages over 25 years ago on an incoming American President and his underlings.

    You must be Iranian, am I right?

    And I hate to burst your bubble, but Bush was NOT the director of the CIA during the crisis, and was chosen long before inauguration day as Reagan’s VP. So the conspiracy you site and the tit-for-tat VP connection make no sense whatsoever.

    No wait, you must be an Iranian democrat, am I right?

  8. bob,

    You seem to have a very limited imagination if you think that the only way they could have been released was by “illegal dealings”. Perhaps, and I say perhaps because we don’t know, the Iranians considered that Reagan would not be as passive as Carter and use the US military to effect a rescue of the hostage or blow up large chunks of Iran trying. See. Now you have stretched your mind with another thought on how it could have come about. So now when you speak of this you won’t be limited to saying “illegal dealings” was the only way.

    And while we are exercising your brain cells, you may want to acquaint yourself with something called reality. It helps when dealing with the world.

    G.H.W. Bush as head of the CIA. But he was the head of the CIA under Ford from 1976 to 1977 (when Carter took office). The Iranian hostage crisis started on November 4, 1979. You go to the back of the class on conspiracy theories for not getting such a simple fact right.

  9. Bandit says:

    Tune up the tinfoil hat Bob

  10. Michael says:

    Perhaps, and I say perhaps because we don’t know, the Iranians considered that Reagan would not be as passive as Carter and use the US military to effect a rescue of the hostage or blow up large chunks of Iran trying.

    Or perhaps they just wanted to add insult to injury against Carter, who was perceived as their adversary at the time while Reagan was not.

    Also, I was not alive at the this happened, but I seem to remember hearing that Carter did try a military rescue, but it went very badly.

  11. Pablo B says:

    “illegal dealings” between Reagan and Iran were well documented during the Iran-Contra scandel. Bob is not the first person to make the connection between the hostage release being done as a favor to Reagan and the later supply of arms being a quid-pro-quo.

    As for the accuracy of UK naval navigation, it should be noted that 5 years ago the UK invaded Spain on accident when they were on an exercise. (see link)

    Since Blair has not released GPS coordinates of the arrest/abduction, there really is no way to tell what really happened out there.

  12. wizardbill says:

    The article you link to doesn’t seem to match the quote you’ve included. Probably they’ve revised it to comply with the party line.

  13. John P. says:

    “My tendency is to trust the British Marines’ ability to identify their location and stay out of Iranian territorial waters, especially in the age of GPS.”

    My guess is that Iran (or one of its allies) also has GPS.

  14. DCNative says:

    “you might not realize this, but the government is run by people who are either religious fanatics or murderous thugs”

    Wow I thought you were talking about the regime squatting in the White house.